Playing It Safe

Twelve Angry’s Bachelorette is a solid production hindered by its own devotion to the text, but nonetheless prompts hearty laughs and reflection on what it means to grow up.

The play is about a bunch of deplorable fuck-ups in their late 20s, coming together the night before Becky’s wedding to get wasted and complain about Becky. Sort of. The three leads, Gena (Rebekah Robertson), Katie (Lucie Gavanon) and Regan (Holly Brindley) are assholes who are pretty into cocaine, but they’re also witty and opinionated and their fraught relationships with each other and with Becky make up the bulk of the work.

The cast is strong and genuinely funny, and it’s clear that they’ve developed the chemistry to form an effective ensemble. Gavanon’s performance is particularly impressive. Although at first Katie seems to be the stock dumb blonde, Gavanon brings so much sweetness, humour and vulnerability to the part as to make her real. It’s one of the best performances I’ve seen in a while. Conor Misson and Joshua Monaghan also do great work with the supporting male roles. The eleventh hour appearance of the much-discussed Becky (Sara Tabitha Catchpole) is fascinating to watch, as Catchpole makes you like and even respect this woman whom everyone else seems to hate. It’s a role that could easily be flat, but she gives it three dimensions and complexity in a very short space of time.

Director Matilda Dixon-Smith plays it relatively safe with this adaptation; scenes are broken up by blackouts, sound design is minimal, costumes and props are realistic. I’m actually pretty fond of traditional theatre, but frankly I thought the staging was a bit dull. Everything takes place in a single room over the course of one night, and despite all the drama that occurs, Dixon-Smith maintains things at a similar pace and level throughout. You get the impression that she loves the script to death and is incredibly faithful to it – more than she needs to be – and as a result doesn’t make it her own.

The props work is excellent for a show without a designated props manager – everything is functional and fitting for a swanky hotel. Hannah Crone’s costuming also did some efficient storytelling of its own, giving you a distinct impression of each character and their priorities. The lighting however is fairly static, which is a shame at times, as subtle shifts could have supported emotional ones, or better shown the passage of time.

The clean precision of Gabby Lewis’ constructed hotel room contrasted brilliantly at the outset with the grungy warehouse space of the Meat Market Stables. Unfortunately, the pieces of the walls designed to fall away as the play progresses were poorly executed, with obvious hinges and edges that did not sit flush with the rest of the set, which meant I kept waiting for them to come down. And when they did, it was with a sudden and distracting pop.
Given the importance of entrances, I’m also not sure why the door to the hotel room is to the right of the audience, causing us to crane our necks every time anyone arrived or left. Sight lines are a problem in general – I struggled to see anything that happened on the floor, and I was relatively close to the front.

Don’t get me wrong, I laughed. A lot. The cast is strong, the writing tight and the production slick. But maybe that was the problem. It all felt a little too slick. Even the messy parts, the breakdowns, the broken glass – they all felt oddly polished. For a show about difficult women and strained friendships, it seemed afraid of being ugly.

Kate Weston

Twelve Angry’s Bachelorette runs from December 6th-11th at the Meat Market Stables.

Raffles on Capri

Born from the lyrics of Australian band Benny and the Dukes, Raffles on Capri is sure to delight audiences when fully realised in their six-show extravaganza in November.

In all honesty big, traditional show tunes have never captivated my interest, which is why this contemporary musical – albeit still in the works – has pleasantly surprised me so much. Attending audiences to the Raffles on Capri launch were treated to not only the concert version of the spellbinding yet fun songs of this brand new Australian musical, but also a trailer hinting at great things to come.

Two years in the making, it was clear from the outset that writer and director Seren Oroszvary, has poured her heart and soul into this show – and if the preview is anything to go by, it will undoubtedly wow audiences. Set amongst a throng of 20-somethings aboard a yacht on the river Seine in Paris, this show promises to offer something for everyone: psychedelic trips, love letters, young ambition, friendship, Skype. You name it, it’s got it.

If that’s not enough to grab you, I can personally assure you the stunning vocals of Tom Kant and Kelly Burke will leave you with goose bumps. While some vocal performances suffered some wobbly notes and could benefit from further refinement, it is evident that this fun cast will pull it all together, with their camaraderie shining through at every turn.

Anna Muggleton-Richardson 

Balloon Head Theatre’s original musical Raffles on Capri was previewed at the Guild Theatre on October 13th and premiered at Stop 17 on November 12th. 

Out-Of-This-World Comedy

The Mudcrabs’ contribution to Melbourne Fringe Festival was Mudcrabs in Space, a sketch comedy show that surprisingly, doesn’t have that much to do with space.

The opening of the show wasn’t particularly funny, unfortunately, simply featuring the seven comedians repeating one joke again and again, getting increasingly louder. It was predictable, but definitely wasn’t an indicator of what was to come, for it was followed by over an hour of hilarious and clever sketches that made me soon forget about that shaky start. This included a debate amongst philosophers concerning the waxing and waning of the moon, insight into the life of an irritable US president, and a typical cool-kids-insulting-nerd scenario, with a surprising punch line. One of the best laughs I had was from Jack McGorlick playing a detective who takes his clothes off. It doesn’t sound that humorous, but it’s done in such a subtle way. At first you’re looking for the joke in the scene, then, when you realise where it’s going, the chuckles kick in, and get more intense as the comedy gets more daring.

Another great moment featured a rowing scene with a few good jokes, followed by a fourth-wall break where the performers made fun of themselves, before escalating into an epic sword fight between Jacob Sacher and Ben Volchok. And I mean epic literally, as in horses chopped in half, running into the audience epic. Then you had Jack McGorlick and Ben Volchok playing two shrieking old ladies on a tram in a sketch that felt like something straight out of Monty Python.

Much praise must be given to all seven comedians, for they did a fine job at keeping the audience entertained. Sandy Whittem, in particular, stood out, for her commitment to her characters. In one scene she was basically an insane waitress and she was unfailingly intense in her performance, where I feel most people would have struggled just to keep a straight face. Chido Mwaturura also excelled in a wide range of roles, and really brought the laughs during the tram sketch.

The Mudcrabs also really effectively referenced sketches within other sketches. It always made an earlier joke that much funnier when it was repeated in a completely different scenario. The First sketch, for example, was simply about a man obsessed with his work. It wasn’t particularly funny, outside of David Mastrantuono’s fantastic voice and Emily Weir’s comical under-reactions. However, when the joke was suddenly and unexpectedly repeated in a more exciting scene, it brought the comedy back tenfold.

If there was one sketch that really didn’t hit that well, it was the one in which two parents give their child the “don’t do drugs” speech, but simply replacing “drugs” with “jobs”. It’s an old gag that I feel we’ve seen too much of, as the scene just drags on whilst the joke becomes stale. Other than that, every sketch felt unique, well thought out, well written, and had its own style of comedy.

Mudcrabs in Space was a lot of fun, with a lot of laughs. The Mudcrabs have proven that, aside from looking great when they all stand in a line, they can perform some excellent comedy.

Jack Nurzinski 

Mudcrabs’s production Mudcrabs in Space ran from September 28th – October 2nd in the Guild Theatre, as part of the Melbourne Fringe 2016. 

First Class Performance

From the minute the audience entered the Guild Theatre we were transported into the gritty and dreamlike world of FLW’s Who’s Afraid of the Working Class. The set – a garbage tip, mattresses and a table – radiated well-coordinated chaos. The live music was urban and surreal, and the actors frozen in their positions on stage already grounded us in their world.

Who’s Afraid of the Working Class is an entangling of four Melbourne plays written by four Australian authors: ‘Trash’ by Andrew Bovell, ‘Money’ by Patricia Cornelius, ‘Dream-town’ by Melissa Reeves and ‘Suit’ by Christos Tsiolkas. Witty, heartbreaking and full of familiarly Australian characters, it’s a play I won’t soon forget.

Madeleine Kerr’s direction was effective and moving, and her casting superb. As specified in the original script each actor was cast in multiple roles. However, the combinations were altered so that each actor sat comfortably in the skin of at least two very different characters. At times it was difficult to work out if an actor had changed character but the distinct characterisation resolved any confusion fairly quickly.

The blocking in some scenes mixed naturalistic acting with some surrealism – such as actors facing the audience rather than each other during a conversation, allowing the audience into their relationship. There were also numerous scenes where the physical blocking greatly added to the comedy of an already sharp script: most notably Lexie Gregory’s character in the train scene trying to fit her legs around those of Brendan McDougall’s ‘Man’ – a familiar experience for any woman.

Unusually, there was no weak link amongst the cast. I was impressed and absorbed by every actor. Many of them, though most notably McDougall as Leon, found humour while conveying their character’s pain honestly. The relationships between characters were layered and believable – particularly the bond between siblings Stacey and Orton. Patrick Tuikaba’s mix of dismissal and care, and Gregory’s devotion to him, was truly poignant.

One of the highlights of the performance was a scene between James Lowther and Steph Raad, where teenaged Daniel breaks into an old woman’s house, only to be mistaken for her estranged son. James Lowther and Steph Raad bounced off each other perfectly – their timing and energy in sync. Lowther’s growing frustration was believable, well delivered, and extremely funny.

The other standout performance was Jess Stenglein’s monologue as Rhonda. When Stenglein finally appeared in the last part of the show I thought it was odd to only give her roles that appear so late. However her characterisation was perfect: she imbued each character with individual life and was captivating every second she was on stage – which is especially difficult in such a long monologue. Her performance as Rhonda was devastating, inducing empathy from the audience despite her character being rather unlikable. She, along with the entire cast, successfully walked the line of sending up characters and revealing their humanity. However, the nudity that followed Rhonda’s monologue didn’t seem to have a clear purpose in the play and therefore would maybe have been a moment where it would have been more effective to ignore that direction in the script.

Overall, Who’s Afraid of the Working Class combined an intelligent script with a strong cast and talented creatives to realise one of the best shows I’ve seen in the last few years.

Emily Kruse

FLW’s Production of Who’s Afraid of the Working Class ran from October 5th-8th in the Guild Theatre.

UMMTA Gets Political

In the running history of UMMTA shows, The Hatpin stands alone, quite unique for being both Australian and somewhat contemporary (written in 2008, with revisions as recent as 2011). It is distinctive for its predominantly female lead-cast, and its deliberate focus on the experiences of these women.

Written by James Millar and Peter Rutherford, The Hatpin follows the story of Amber Murray, played by Eleanor Davey. Set in Redfern, Sydney in 1892, we are flung into a world where female sexual autonomy and the basic right to social welfare are virtually or completely non-existent. A destitute single-mother, Amber is desperate to provide for her infant son, Horace Murray. Horace is an illegitimate child, one born from sexual assault – a fact that never stops colouring the play.

The production interspersed larger ensemble ‘Sydney town-life’ scenes amidst moments focused on the lead characters, strategically counteracting the sometimes stifling atmosphere of the narrative. Even knowing that I was watching UMMTA did little to prepare me for the crisp synchronisation and glorious harmonies of the ensemble cast. While static, their collective poise had a steady buzz to it. You could feel the iron focus of a cast on their A-game; their attention to detail, to mannerism, to simply interacting to and reacting off of each other.

I felt that some, if not a good handful, of the solo songs treated their subject matter unsubtly, though in accordance with the play-script. They were, however, sung beautifully and I could see that the direction was actively trying to avoid turning the songs into anything soppy. Though Emma Gordon-Smith’s emotional performance alone made the show for me, Grace Haslinghouse’s performance of Agatha Makin was as superbly strong as her voice and, as Clara Makin, Bella Wiemers’ singing stopped me from thinking, it was so warm and clear.

I noticed early on that the show revolved around how Amber’s story intersected with other women in her life. On this point, Stage-Manager Sian Morrison, stressed that the play was ‘all about the female’s journey’, which Assistant Director Aram Geleris also reiterated a little later: ‘you don’t need men to tell a story about women’. This is a point that obviously goes without saying, but given the apparent scarcity of female centred musicals in the canon, it might just bear repeating.

Director Jordan Peters was very clear about stressing the primacy of class segregation in this play, and how that underpins the sexism. He noted, in the early ensemble song about work, that upper-class women leaned into their ‘comparative privilege’ over disadvantaged women like Amber. But Peters also noted that ‘the play isn’t perfect’. For all of its refreshing feminist values, there were times where I could tell that it was written by men. Namely, when Amber poses a pointed, and genuinely shocked, question to Harriet: ‘You don’t like it when men fancy you?’ It was not only clumsily heteronormative, but downright unbelievable coming from Amber, who has been through harrowing ordeals with men in the past.

A story of female friendship, strongly preoccupied with the experiences of women and the pervasive intersection between patriarchy and classism, The Hatpin is not just a well-executed production, but an importantly relevant one. You could go see the show for Eleanor Davey’s heartfelt lead performance alone, but this is a musical offering so much more than entertainment.

Anthony Kuiper

UMMTA’s The Hatpin ran from September 16th – 24th in the Union Theatre.

A Taste That Leaves You Wanting More

From the minute the audience walked into the Guild Theatre, DisColourNation’s ‘The Unbearable Whiteness of Being’ made an impact. Each audience member was stopped and asked if they identified as a person of colour. Those who said yes got a Freddo chocolate; the rest sat down empty handed. It was clever, allowing the audience to experience the marginalisation that was explored throughout the piece. Without explicitly stating it, the piece stuck very much to the culture of Melbourne University, exploring the limits POC face in student theatre and the forms of racism that still exist within our generation. Switching between musical numbers and monologues, the ‘Unbearable Whiteness of Being’ was funny in its delivery, and got a lot of laughs. But at the same time it was very much a serious piece, in no way subtle with its impact, revealing that our student culture is not as inclusive as we’d like to believe. Undoubtedly a thought-provoking and important piece of theatre. 

‘Voices Like Birds Calling’ was a beautifully original nod to Beckett. The absurdist piece created that sense of a step out from reality through the manipulation of language. It was very much a sensory experience that relied on sound, aided by the limited use of lighting, with the stage mostly in darkness. The words and phrases didn’t offer a definitive narrative, but suggested the scenario of two people in a cave having a conversation. The idea of loneliness wasn’t only explored thematically, but reflected in the blocking with the three actors, Joshua Lynzaat, Dana McMillan and Charlotte Salusinszky, working in isolation, with Salusinszky only featuring as an offstage voice. Although this was an interesting element, it seemed to dominate the performance. The most impressive moment of the piece was when the lighting illuminated Lynzaat, casting a large shadow on the wall behind him. This paired with the repetition of words like ‘terrible’ and ‘awful’, which grew more emotionally charged as his performance went on, was incredibly engaging. The piece was fresh and original, but I think it could have been a little bolder, and not held back from exploring more with the lighting and the actors’ delivery.

‘Songs for Ghosts’ was completely different from any of the other pieces of the night. Just Tzeyi Koay with her guitar, performing original music, it made Tastings a forum for expression rather than a theatrical showcase. Koay’s songs in themselves were moving and the lyrics poetic, but were elevated to another level by her raw and powerful voice. Koay introduced herself and gave us a bit of context for the first song, sharing with the audience that she had written it when her mother was diagnosed with cancer. This detail made the experience even more profound, and I wished that we had gotten to know the context for her second song. Her last number was an acapella rendition of House of the Rising Sun, which, although beautiful, broke away from the intimate and personal tone of her original songs. Though a musical performance, a bit of direction would have gone a long way in ‘Songs For Ghosts’, simply to curate the transition between songs and to give the audience more insight into them.

Lauren Bennett

UMSU Creative Arts Office’s Tastings ran from September 8th-10th in the Guild Theatre.

Hats Off

First-time director Jordan Peters has hit the ground running with UMMTA’s The Hatpin, a story surrounding motherhood and friendship in the midst of a terrible tragedy. With a powerful ensemble, succinct direction and the perfect balance of comedy and poignancy, the production exceeded my expectations, and delivered what is surely one of the most impressive productions of the year.

The performances in The Hatpin were convincing, entertaining and captivating. Eleanor Davey rose to the demanding role of Amber Murray, giving a consistent and emotive performance. Occasionally her character’s gentle meekness came across as somewhat lacklustre; nonetheless, her performance was on the whole impressive. Thomas Kitt-Thompson similarly delivered a solid portrayal of Charles Makin, balancing his obsessive devotion to his wife with his underlying brutality.

However, Emma Gordon-Smith, Grace Haslinghouse and Bella Wiemers delivered the show’s stellar performances. As Harriet Piper, Emma Gordon-Smith enchanted the audience in equal parts with her voice and the rough yet jovial charm of her character. Grace Haslinghouse, as Agatha Makin, performed with a commanding energy and charisma, which lifted the entire production. The characterisation of Agatha balanced her shrillness, charm, cruelty and comedy in a way that was both enthralling and disturbing. Bella Wiemers, as Clara Makin, was the dark horse of the performance. Playing a relatively small role for the majority of the play, her final monologue was outstandingly poignant, equal parts redeeming, moving and distressing. A mention must also be given to the chorus and minor characters, who were committed, charismatic and beguiling. They were crucial in building the play’s atmosphere, and indeed, to the performance’s success as a whole.

As director, Jordan Peters’ role in the success of the cast must be mentioned. The ensemble in particular were exceedingly well directed, their blocking came across as natural, neat and succinct. The musical numbers were also simply and precisely executed, much to the credit of choreographer Ellie Richards. Throughout the performance, the production used space consistently, ultimately lending cohesion to the entire narrative.

The costume design, by Tuan Pham, was impressive and consistent across characters. For a play so rooted in history, this was crucial to the story’s successful portrayal. Jaidan Mereki Leeworthy’s lighting design was standard, but nevertheless what the production demanded, and was seamless in its execution.

The set design was also impressive – it was detailed, yet not crowded, and made use of all its elements. Although the moving of furniture between scenes prolonged some transitions, the effectiveness of the set ultimately outweighed this minor problem. The orchestra are also to be commended on the music, which worked seamlessly in and out of the performances. There were some moments where the music was somewhat out of time with the actors’ singing; however these occurrences were rare and barely noticeable.

On the whole, UMMTA’s production of The Hatpin had a level of professionalism rarely seen in student theatre. Its performances were charming, humorous and emotive, its story hopeful, comedic and tenderly sad. Coherently tied together with impressive production design, The Hatpin is set to be one of the most notable student productions of the year.

Matilda Millar-Carton

UMMTA’s The Hatpin is on in the Union Theatre from September 16th-24th.